Gambling Commission Investigates Merkur Following Exploitation Allegations

UKGC Investigates Merkur Following Exploitation Allegations

The UK Gambling Commission is investigating high street slot machine operator Merkur over allegations of exploiting a vulnerable customer, Wendy Hughes, who lost over £2,000 while battling lung cancer. This inquiry casts a shadow over the German company’s expansion efforts in the UK.

Merkur, owned by Germany’s Gauselmann Group, operates the second-largest network of adult gaming centres in the UK. These venues, often open 24 hours, allow customers to play slot machines at £2 a spin. Recently, the Guardian reported an incident at Merkur’s Stockport branch where staff reportedly ignored the plight of 64-year-old Wendy Hughes as she lost significant amounts during her cancer treatment.

Incident Details

Over two days, Hughes, visibly frail, was seen playing for 16 hours, during which staff allegedly reserved her favourite machine and watched as she withdrew more money after midnight. Her losses amounted to more than £2,000, raising concerns about the exploitation of a vulnerable individual.

Company’s Response

In response to the allegations, Merkur blamed the incident on branch staff, asserting that all necessary customer protection measures were in place as required by the regulator.

Financial Context

Despite the controversy, Merkur reported a 17% increase in revenues last year, totalling £202 million. The company highlighted its ongoing UK expansion, which includes the opening of 100 new venues since 2020. However, this expansion has not been without financial strain, as Merkur reported losses exceeding £9 million over the past two years.

Regulatory and Public Response

The Gambling Commission has yet to comment on the ongoing investigation. Merkur, meanwhile, has faced local opposition in various locations, including a recent withdrawal of a venue application in Sheffield due to community objections. The incident comes as the UK government contemplates reforms in the gambling sector, potentially easing regulations on high street slots.

Future Outlook

The investigation into Merkur’s practices and the resulting public scrutiny may influence upcoming regulatory decisions and the company’s strategic approach in the UK market. In its recent financial statements, Merkur acknowledged the potential reputational damage from negative publicity and affirmed its commitment to promoting a safe gambling environment.